Jason Mraz

Love is a Four Letter Word

Written by: CM on 02/06/2012 21:53:19

Jason Mraz has been a presence in the pop music world since his debut, "Waiting for My Rocket to Come," dropped back in 2003, but he became an industry behemoth in 2009 when the gratingly catchy "I'm Yours" took over the airwaves. To say that song overstayed its welcome would be a vast understatement, and it's one of those pop hits that I never, under any circumstances, want to hear again, but the rest of the album that spawned it ("We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things") was a decent mix of Michael Jackson-esque pop and acoustic balladry, and I still give some of those songs spins every once in awhile. Listening through Mraz's catalog, it's clear that he has a diverse side to him that most pop singer/songwriters don't attempt (his eclectic sophomore album, 2005's "Mr. A-Z," hit everything from hip-hop to opera), but his latest, "Love is a Four Letter Word" doesn't breach a lot of new territory. That's fine, since the 12 songs (13 if you count the hidden track) here are easy, breezy summer-pop gems and since Mraz doesn't try to blatantly rewrite any of his previous hits, but overall, this record is a fairly straightforward one, offering just what most would expect from Mraz, and not a whole lot more.

It doesn't help a lot that "Love is a Four Letter Word" kicks off with its weakest track, the hippy-folk, Bob Marley-aping "Freedom Song." It's pleasant enough, with horn sections added for extra effect, but the chorus of back-up vocalists comes across as over-the-top, and the song never rises above its cheesy, self-serious lyric. Things get better quickly though, with a trio of surefire radio singles filling slots 2-5. Best is "I Won't Give Up," which bears an ineffable hook and a splendid, earnest vocal from Mraz (who I've always believed to be one of the most technically gifted singers in the pop music world). The other two - "Living in the Moment" and "The Woman I Love" - will be too sugary for many, but those with a soft spot for well-crafted pop music will find themselves whistling the melodies after a single listen. The same goes for songs like "Frank D. Fixer" (despite clunky lyrics), or album-highlight "93 Million Miles," a glorious slice of summer pop that will probably make it onto countless mixtapes and playlists during the upcoming season. The latter epitomizes the laid back, breezy nature of this record, and while that's not necessarily a quality that's going to lend "Love is a Four Letter Word" much lasting value in the long run, it's hard not to enjoy it for its immediacy.

Then, three-quarters of the way through the record, Mraz makes a sudden and jarring turn from summer-pop record into break-up album territory. The transition doesn't quite work, mostly because the intimate songs that close out the record, stuff like "Who's Thinking About You Now" and "In Your Hands," sound like they would have felt infinitely more at home on this record's predecessor than they do here. Luckily the songs, especially the latter, are good enough to not completely derail the album's flow (which up to this point is seamless), and the closer, called "The World as I See It," is a sonic feast, bursting with strings, vocal harmonies, bells, and electric guitar accents that carry the album out in grand fashion. Mraz's voice, which rises slowly out of the texture to nail a glory note at the song's climax, before melting back into a final chorus, sounds immaculate. "Coming Over," the hidden track, is nearly as good, with a falsetto-laden vocal line and a driving drum rhythm combining to form an irresistible nighttime atmosphere.

There are a lot of good songs on "Love is a Four Letter Word," and they make for an enjoyable and relaxing listen, but the album as a whole never becomes more than the sum of its parts and that keeps it from standing alongside the year's best pop releases. Mraz has never sounded better, and he clearly knows how to write a memorable hook, but his lyrics too often drift into trite territory, and the album never quite decides what it wants to be. It's a solid collection, one that I can see myself playing, in bits and pieces, a lot throughout this summer, and one that will probably land somewhere with my slew of honorable mentions at the end of the year, but probably not one I will ever love. Mraz is a talented melodist, and an even better singer, and his pop songs are fun, I just wish that he would shed his formulaic format more often than he does. When he plays things a little bit looser, like with the deep rhythmic groove of "5-6," or with a lot of the stuff from "Mr. A-Z," he comes off as a lot more interesting than he does on his radio hits. As is, Mraz sits in the middle of the mainstream road, better than contemporaries like Jack Johnson and Gavin DeGraw, but not ready to play in the ranks of John Mayer, Matt Nathanson, or Mat Kearney. He certainly has the talent to get there, but I think he's going to need to take a few more risks - or at very least, write some better lyrics - before he can make the jump.

7

Download: "93 Million Miles," "The World As I See It," "5-6"
For The Fans Of: Matt Nathanson, Jack Johnson, Josh Kelley
Listen: facebook.com

Release Date 13.04.2012
Atlantic

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